|Antique Trunk History and Styles
Including: Hide Covered Trunks, Antique Stagecoach Trunks, Dome Top Trunks, Round Top Trunks, Bevel Top Trunks, Monitor Top
Trunks, Slatted and Non-Slatted Flat Top Trunks.
Other styles are included on the next page.
In dating the various styles, it should be noted that many changes occurred within a relatively short time after about 1850. There were
several transitional periods where elements of one style could be found on examples of another, primarily dealing with the buttons and
wood slats. Also, examples of a particular style do exist outside the ranges given. Sometimes dating these particular trunks requires some
experience and there are even producers of trunks today although we see no effort to hide that fact. With 1000's of trunk makers worldwide
during the 1800's through early 1900's, some locations were ahead of others and there was an era of remakes in the first quarter of the
1900's which are themselves approaching antique. The ranges given should provide general insight as to the initial popular era of the style.
|Tacked Hide Or Leather Covered Trunks
As Early As The 1600's -1870
Being readily available, animal hides served as the early covering of trunks in addition to oilcloth. By the late 1700's, the hides were usually
held in place by numerous small brass tacks (as opposed to the larger ones to follow) and frequently we see the owners initials tacked on
the top or front of the trunk. The edging or dust banding was also made of a leather form and often scalloped or done in a decorative
manner. The handles are usually forged metal when present. Many of these trunks we see were made by a saddle and harness maker. It
also became quite customary for a father to make his child a small trunk of this style when the child became of school age to carry his
belongings or when the child became old enough to leave home seeking work. Most examples are fairly small although large ones (36"+)
do exist in limited numbers. While many find the old hides less than appealing, we strongly encourage their preservation whenever
possible as examples are becoming scarce.
|Stagecoach Trunks Including The Jenny Lind's
This era of trunks saw the replacement of the leather trim with metal banding and the hide coverings replaced by things such as oil cloth, a
tanned and often highly tooled or inked leather, and toward the later part of the era, paper on occasion. During this time, the size of the
buttons, often brass covered, became larger although not all trunks had them. Generally, trunks of this type were still on the smaller size to
carry a few belongings for an individual person as space was limited during travel.
The Jenny Lind trunk was born in this time in the early 1850's. It has a distinctive shape like no other trunk being similar to an old keyhole or
bread loaf shape (there are two variations) when viewed from the side. The style became popular in America when the famous singer
Jenny Lind toured the country under contract by P.T. Barnum. Jenny Lind brought her trunk over from Europe (do not know who made the
first one) and everyone here wanted one. It is a very attractive trunk with metal banding that is on occasion brass wrapped and the banding
is held in place by large brass buttons. The Jenny Lind's are really a unique style of their own but I have listed then under the stagecoach
trunks as that is really what they were and their general size being consistent with other trunks of this era.
|Dome Top Trunks
Built in many sizes and styles. They generally have a curved top that slopes in both directions and built using a variety of construction
methods including molded ply and barrel construction among others. Within this style of trunks are a few other names that have come
about based on the positioning of the wood slates that cover the dome construction. The exact origin of these names is unknown but seem
reasonable and listed below as I understand them.
Barrel Stave Trunks (1860-1885) they generally date a bit earlier than most of the dome tops made and have horizontal running slats
instead of vertical (end to end vs. over the top), giving it a slightly different look. The word "stave" in this case refers to the wood slats. These
trunks were mostly made from the late 1860's until about the mid 1880s when the other dome construction methods listed below became
more widely used. Often early examples of this style have a graceful, well proportioned look and the later examples into the 1870's are quite
simply well made.
Camel Back Trunks which having a central, vertically-running top slat that is higher than all others.
Hump Back Trunks or Hunch Backs which is basically the same as the camel back trunk but has no slat in the center of the top.
|Round Top Trunks
The top of these antique trunks slope front and back only and the highest point is consistent across its length. While the general shape
has been around forever, our date range primarily addresses just those of the wood slatted variety. It would not be incorrect to include the
earlier examples such as the hide covered or metal banded stagecoach era trunks with round tops in this category as the top shape is the
Much like the dome top trunks, the wood slat positioning varies on the round top trunks with those running long ways often being the older
examples. The overall size of these trunks can vary greatly from a child's size trunk to about the largest made. The height and slope of the
top also varies, from a gentle curve to extremely hight arching.
|Bevel Top Trunks
1870 to 1880 and then 1890-1905
They are characterized by a distinct trapezoidal shape when viewed from the side. The earlier period trunks tended to have a much shorter
flattened top section than the later and are extremely rare although not as popular as some of the other variations. Some antique trunks
have a bevel only at the extreme edge such as the last photo. Not sure they are the "pure form" of this style but I have included here just to
|Monitor Top Trunks
Late 1870's - Late 1910's
Often incorrectly called waterfall trunks from the furniture style. They supposedly take their name from a ship called the Monitor (if you turn it
upside down and look at the hull) and are characterized by their rounded front and rear corners to form a lying-down "D" when viewed from
the side. They have very labor intensive hardwood slats that make an extreme curve with the tops shape. Most found are metal covered and
some can be slightly difficult to correctly date as being early or late examples.
|Flat Top Trunks
While rare examples exist from the mid 1850's or so, it was really not until the late 1860's that they really started showing up and then mass
produced in the 1880's and after. They have a flat top and hardwood slats running across. Most were canvas covered with rare better
examples being leather. Some, well into their date range, were metal covered. A variation exists where the top is just slightly curved,
however, they resemble the flat top in all other aspects. Perhaps they should be included with the round top style but are often referred to as
a flat top given the similar appearance. Some of the better trunk makers that survived well into the 1900's, or even today, produced the
slatted flat top trunk well past the date range. These are often marked with the makers name easily identifiable and of very good quality. The
examples shown illustrate the evolution of the slatted flat top from very early to about the late 1890's.
|Flat Top Trunks
Mostly the same shape as the slatted flat tops, but no wood slats. Often, although not always, they were made of a plywood which did not
require the use of slats to cover the seams. While they are sometimes thought of as being a lesser example of an antique trunk, this is not
necessarily the case. The early "3 Ply Wood" was actually quite good, perhaps airplane quality, and this era of trunk should be judged on
how the trunk was adorned in regards to covering, trim, and hardware quality. Some coverings were leather, canvas, a dipped canvas, fake
leather, metal, or a vulcanized fiber material. Like most things, quality varies greatly. The black one in the slatted examples and the black
one in the "un-slatted" examples are actually the same maker about 20 years apart.
More Antique Trunk Styles On the Next Page